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The C aSusa: 

A Savage Kingdom? 

Halputta Hadjo 

The Calusa: A Savage Kingdom? 
Halputta Hadjo 
Edit by Regresion Magazine 
Summer 2016 



The following essay is a turning point for eco-extremist 
theory. The author accomplishes a meticulous 
investigation of the Calusa of the coast of Florida in the 
present-day United States. In doing so, he opens up a 
significant panorama with respect to the examples that 
can be used that are not necessarily historical examples 
from nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes. Before this essay, 
eco-extremist theory always felt obligated to only cite 
these aforementioned tribes as the basis of its theory. 

“The Calusa: A Savage Kingdom?” teaches a valuable 
lesson; namely, that much can be learned from both the 
small nomadic groups and the great pre-Columbian 
civilizations. Here there is no danger of falling into a 
theoretical “contradiction,” as eco-extremists can 
reference the Selk’nam as well as the Mayas. They can 
refer to the experiences of petty criminals as well as those 
of the large mafias; the Guatemalan gangs as well as the 
rigid organization of the Islamic State. That is to say, eco- 
extremists are free to refer to whatever they like, without 
any hint of morality, with the only condition that it gives 
a particular useful lesson concerning the planning and 
execution of their war. 

This is the case in citing the Calusa. The author devotes 
himself to exposing the characteristics of that people, 
emphasizing their ferocity against the invaders, but also 
focusing on their way of life, their customs and traditions, 
their form of government, and their pagan beliefs related 
to wild nature as seen in their surroundings. That is to 
say, it treats themes that many would consider 
discomforting, politically incorrect, and inhuman, thus 
leaving valuable lessons to be learned. 

In this way Hcilputta Hcidjo leaves his mark. 


Revista Regresion 
Summer 2016 

“We ourselves, controlled by the imperious program of our present nature, are conceived and born like the other beasts of 
the earth, then become children, and finally are led from youth to the wrinkles of age like a flower that only lives for a 
moment, dies, and gives rise to new life; truly we deserve to be called God’s playthings. ” 

-Maximus the Confessor, 7thcentury A.D., quoted in Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s Cosmic Liturgy: The Universe According to 
Maximus the Confessor, pg. 60 

“For much of human history and for all of prehistory, humans did not see themselves as being any different from the other 
animals among which they lived. Hunter-gatherers saw their prey as equals, if not superiors, and animals were worshiped 
as divinities in traditional cultures. The humanist sense of the gulf between ourselves and other animals is an aberration. ” 
-John Gray, Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals (21stcentury A.D.), pg- 17 

All things are full of gods. 

-Attributed to Thales of Miletus, 6thcentury B.C. 

1. No Gods, No Masters? 

This paper will attempt to address two themes that have been of interest 
in anti-civilization / anti-authoritarian / eco-radical discourse in the last 
few months. The themes are those of authority and animism / paganism. 

We will argue here from the eco-extremist position, with the caveat that 
eco-extremism may have as many viewpoints as it does adherents. We are 
not attempting here to “herd cats” in that regard, but we are trying to 
deepen points made in passing in communiques, polemics, and interviews 
from various actors from this tendency. Many will ridicule eco-extremism 
if it merely manifests itself in curt, abrasive, and opportunistic rhetoric. 

While this tendency has expressed many times that it has no interest in 
proselytizing or making adherents of other hostile tendencies, clarity of 
thought is always welcome. All we are offering here is such clarity in 
the form of a gloss on the historical, archeological, and anthropological 
sources available to us from one specific and peculiar case. Please note 
that we don’t take these sources as absolute in their veracity, but rather 
we struggle with the texts with a “trust, but verify” mentality. 

Two eco-extremist quotes serve as the setting for our reflection. The first 
comes from the recent interview of the “Mexican” eco-extremist group, 

Individualists Tending Toward the Wild (Individualistas Tendiendo a lo 
Salvaje, — ITS) with the national press after the assassination of a 
Chemistry Department worker at the UNAM (National Autonomous 
University of Mexico) in June 2016: 

“We respond to be clear that we kill because this is WAR. We do not recognize any other authority but the authority of our 
pagan deities tied to nature and who are against Catholicism and the Judeo-Christian god. These gods push us toward 
confrontation. ” 

Some weeks prior, a group of eco-extremists stated the following in a polemic against anarchists critical of ITS and its 
actions entitled, “Our response is like an earthquake: It comes sooner or later”: 

“On this we ’re not going to attempt to make them understand that not all forms of authority are harmful, since they 
obviously WON’T GET IT. They should think more profoundly and not remain in the old expired discourse of social 
criticism that they defend. It ’s true that 'authority ’ has existed in ancient ethnic groups before civilization, but it ’s worth 
asking: Is the authority exercised by a leader of a Bushman tribe (for example), one that helps to feed them, something that 
is harmful? Is the authority of the Taromenane shaman, one which cures and alleviates illnesses in his band of wild humans, 
something harmful? Was the authority of the great Teochichimeca warriors, who were able to take revenge against the 
Spanish in their day, something harmful? If you say ‘yes ’, you ’re hopeless... ” 

The two points are valid in our opinion, if flippantly made. Also, they are no doubt tied together. The evolution of eco- 
extremist discourse owes much to the history of anarchism, which in itself was anti-clerical and fiercely secular. As with 
many things, however, eco-extremism has evolved beyond its anarchist roots, and some eco-extremists now cling to the 
historical pagan gods and spirits of the lands where they inhabit. Some claim direct descent from native peoples and are thus 
reclaiming their peoples’ gods with a war-like ethos. The premise is that anarchism, with its humanistic secularism, is not 

anarchic enough, or rather, it veils the artificiality and control that civilization breeds into us ipso facto. Wild Nature, as a 
sort of filler for what should be an elaborate cosmovision and spirituality of a particular “primitive people”, is seen as both 
the primary agent of the struggle against civilization and the ultimate beneficiary of civilization’s demise. 

This can be contrasted to the leftist and humanistic approach of U.S. anarcho-primitivism, particularly of the school of John 
Zerzan and Kevin Tucker. The latest endeavor of this group is the publication of a journal entitled Black and Green Review, 
the third issue of which was released in May of this year. One of the showcase pieces of that issue, “Wild Resistance, 
Insurgent Subsistence: An interview with BC green anarchists on native resistance, building community and undermining 
civilization”, aims to show the current “praxis” of anarcho-primitivism, mainly, helping native peoples in British Columbia 
in Canada to resist the oil and gas industry that wants to exploit their ancestral lands. More specifically, a group of green 
anarchists is both providing logistical support to the tribes’ struggles and trying to establish their own “community of 
resistance” based on immediate-returns nomadic hunter-gatherer paradigms advocated by Kevin Tucker in particular. This 
would be akin to attempting to follow the lifeways of the peoples of the Kalahari, Alaska, the central African jungle, etc.; 
that is, of the last nomadic hunter-gatherers who live in small and relatively egalitarian bands. 

At one point, the interviewer Kevin Tucker asks about the problem of authority. It seems that even in this green anarchist 
Arcadia, “authority” has reared its bony, eyeless head. Namely, the tribes that they assist in the Pacific Northwest have been 
historically very hierarchical, sedentary, and rigid in their societal structure. They are still fighting for their ancestral “rights”, 
however, but their societies fall far short of green anarchist aspirations. 

Our “shepherds”, however, try to take a middle course of both assisting these natives in their fight, but also maintaining their 
autonomy to realize their own dream of “True Anarchy”: 

“As anarchists we ’re always dealing with the question of how to work, fight and play with non-anarchists and traditional 
cultures. I’ve got to admit that over the years I've found more reciprocity and anarchistic relations with indigenous people 
who come from a more nomadic, small band, cultural background in the interior than in the more sedentary and 
slave/commoner/nobility ranked coastal cultures. This is a generalization, as I have met coastal folks who share our desires, 
but the feeling and experience of a more rigid culture stands. 

In any solidarity and decolonization efforts with traditional cultures, we are asking ourselves; are we helping to revive 
traditions that are diametrically opposed to our desire for free relationships instead of institutionalized, coercive ones? Are 
we enabling a revamped version of older national liberation schemes, where the mythical golden age of a heavenly past 
before the devil appeared, is to be re-established, lock, stock, and barrel? I think those are complex questions, given the 
transformative capacity and diversity of individuals and cultures involved, and the legacy of colonization. ” 

As defenders of the eco-extremist tendency, we admire the “flexibility” shown by these anarchists, but we still find this 
attitude problematic. It seems that they are picking “primitive” societies out of a catalog, and choosing the ones that most 
“speak to them”, while trying to compromise in their activism in order to not become totally irrelevant. In the end, what we 
see here is the fatal flaw of anarcho-primitivism: the belief that societies can be made whole cloth from a series of principles 
learned in college-level anthropology textbooks. Zerzan, Tucker, et. al.’s view of human nature seems like the Kantian 
category, i.e. a mental box in one’s head that determines reality, or rather, a “software program” that needs to be rebooted 
and mn again so that the hardware reverts to factory specifications. The technological analogy is entirely appropriate since, 
as we will summarize at the end of the article, the ethos of anarcho-primitivism / green anarchy remains anthropocentric, 
humanistic, and rationalist. 

Eco-extremism in contrast is pessimistic and misanthropic, at least when it comes to civilized “humanity” (which is perhaps 
a redundant term). It is pessimistic in that its analysis doesn’t aim to create a new “blueprint” or to fix the bug in the software 
language that led to its mortal enemy, civilization. If eco-extremists could do that, they would be gods, and that is a 
ridiculous proposition on its face. It is thus misanthropic because it does not consider humans to be outside their own 
animality, and thus there is no real agency as individuals, societal or otherwise. Ultimately, the individual is an ensemble of 
involuntary and natural processes that make him incredibly fickle and functionally powerless. The real agents are those 
things that make him thus. 

He can lash out or he can surrender, but whatever he does, he does within the blindness and impotence of his own carnal 
nature. That is no reason to give up, and it is no reason to despair. It is every reason, however, to revere those forces that 
created things this way, and these are the “spirits” or the “gods” of a specific environment, whatever you want to call them. 
The attitude of eco-extremists is undying hostility toward technological civilization in the name of the spirits that are his lost 

In order to explore these themes in depth, we move from the abstract to the concrete, that is, from analyzing principles to 
investigating the development of a historical people from its primordial beginnings to its tragic end in historic times. We 
speak here of the Calusa tribe of southwest Florida, a group that has the added benefit of being similar to the chiefdoms 
mentioned in the Black and Green Review interview. The Calusa had the same “problematic” characteristics of hierarchy and 
complexity but on a larger scale and in a more pronounced manner. In the Calusa, we find a fierce people who created what 

could be considered a “civilization” without agriculture, or rather, as hunter-gatherer-fishers. As with all peoples, they were a 
product of their land / sea-scape and their historical reactions to it through the centuries. The result was a proud and cunning 
people who resisted Spanish colonialism for two centuries after initial contact. 

2. Emergence of the Calusa polity 

The Calusa Indians of southwestern Florida have long intrigued researchers as they appear from the historical evidence to 
have been a society with extensive social stratification and political development but without any staple crops to speak of. 
That is, they were able to create and sustain surpluses that created a “civilization” as hunter-collectors, mostly through 
extensive harvesting of fish and other animal products from the sea. While other tribes such as those of the U.S. Pacific 
Northwest also seemed to have created high levels of social organization without agriculture, the Calusa did so on a larger 
scale by developing centralized political power in a paramount chief and nobility. In spite of this, or because of it, the 
Spaniards were unable to proselytize and defeat the Calusa in their encounters with them in the sixteenth and seventeenth 
centuries. Indeed, the Calusa cleaved to their animist beliefs and caused great consternation in the Spanish Catholic 
missionaries who tried to convert them. It was only with the invasions of tribes from the north in the 18 th century, in large 
part due to pressures placed on them by European powers, that the Calusa faded into the oblivion of history that was the fate 
of many now-defunct tribes of that period. All the same, we posit that the shape and characteristics of Calusa society, at least 
what we know of it, blur the line between what we know as “civilization” and “wildness”. In particular, the Calusa show that 
we should be mindful of the limits of our own conceptions concerning societies of the past, and attentive to how Wild Nature 
herself shapes societies in a given context; and how human societies, at least before our own, are manifestations of nature in 
a given context, ever changing, self-constructing, and passing away. 

A history of the Calusa is tightly bound to their unique environment of southwest Florida. As William Marquardt states in 
his essay, “The Emergence and Demise of the Calusa,” 

“South Florida straddles temperate and tropical biomes, fostering rich and intergrading plant communities (Scarry and 
Newsome, 1992). In the sixteenth century, the zone of Calusa influence stretched across the vast wetlands and flatlands of 
the southern Florida peninsula from the Gulf to the Atlantic coast and south to the Florida Keys. The Calusa heartland 
centered on Charlotte Harbor, near present-day Fort Myers. In Charlotte Harbor the combination of river overflow from the 
ulterior and the enclosing barrier islands furnished a protected, shallow, grassy estuary of extraordinary year-round 
activity. ” (158) 

One paper from this year found in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology entitled, “The Calusa and prehistoric 
subsistence in central and south Gulf Coast Florida” by Hutchinson et. al state the following concerning the Florida coastal 

“Florida has the longest shoreline in the United States at 13,676 km, with massive areas of open estuaries and tidal marshes 
along the Gulf Coast ( Livingston , 1990). This rich biotic environment has afforded a dependable subsistence base for the 
human inhabitants living along the coast at least since the beginning of the Archaic period (8000 B.C. lasting until about 
500 B.C.; Milanich, 1994). The protected waters of the lagoons that lie behind barrier islands provide substantial food 
resources, as do the near-shore environments of the barrier islands. Adjacent terrestrial areas include grasslands, 

freshwater marsh, cypress and mangrove swamp, and pine forests that are both home to and foraging areas of numerous 
mammals, birds, reptiles, freshwater fish, amphibians, and freshwater molluscs. ”(56) 

Of the Calusa themselves, Lucy Fowler Williams states in her article, “The Calusa Indians: Maritime Peoples of Florida in 
the Age of Columbus”: 

“The Calusa lived from at least A.D. 1 000 up to the middle of the 18th century in what are now southwest Florida 's Lee, 
Charlotte, and Collier counties. While estimates vary, their population probably numbered between 4,000 and 10,000. 
Historic sources reveal that they were a warlike people who economically and politically dominated most of southern 

Archaeological and historical evidence indicates the Calusa ’s primary source of food was the sea, and virtually all evidence 
suggests they did not practice agriculture. The rich and relatively stable coastal ecology of southwest Florida provided an 
abundance of marine life — numerous kinds offish, shellfish, and sea mammals — that was capable of supporting a large 
human population. Av noted in an early 1566 account, Pedro Menendez de Aviles, a Jesuit missionary in charge of an early 
and unsuccessful attempt to convert the tribe to Christianity, was welcomed by the principal leader of the Callus with a large 
meal consisting only of many kinds of boiled, roasted, and raw fish (Goggin and Sturtevant 1964). Fruit and roots were 
gathered, and deer, bear, and raccoon were probably eaten as well. ” 

Daniel F. Austin, in his article entitled, “The Glades Indians: Ethnobotany of an Extinct Culture,” found in the Summer/Fall 
1997 edition of The Palmetto: Quarterly Magazine of the Florida Native Plant Society, states the following known facts 
about Calusa society: 

“This culture may have taken their name from their second historical leader, Calos. These were as coastal people of 
Southwestern Florida between Charlotte Harbor and Cape Sable who relied heavily on the ocean for food. The most 
powerful group in historic times, the Calusa extracted tribute from the Atlantic coastal villages. ” 

John H. Hann, in the book, Missions to the Calusa, further elaborates on the historical record showing the Calusa as a society 
based on conquest but not on agriculture (226): 

“The Calusa world that Fontaneda described and that the Spaniards encountered in the 1560’s was a complex chiefdom, 
headed by the Calusa ruler, Carlos. According to Fontaneda, Carlos, and his father before him, were the lord of fifty towns, 
some of which were as far inland as Lake Okeechobee and two of which were in the Keys. Still others were tributary to the 
Calusa ruler, at times at least. The power of that chiefdom reflected, as Henry F. Dobyns observed, in the mid-sixteenth 
century Spaniards’ perception of its ruler as a king. Dobyns went on to describe the Calusa polity as a ‘conquest kingdom ’ 
and remarked that its pattern of tribute collection ‘very much resembled that of the Aztecs and Incas, although Calusa 
society was smaller in scale. ’ One might view that comparison as stretching a point, but the basis for the remark leaves no 
doubt as to the Calusa polity ’s chiefdom status. ” 

As for agriculture, Marquardt states the following (ibid): 

“But until solid new evidence is found, one must agree with John W. Griffin that ‘All of the ethnohistorical sources 
characterize South Florida as non-agricultural at the time of contact. ’And they remained so long after contact. In 1697, on 
seeing hoes the friars brought with them, the Calusa asked what purpose they would serve inasmuch as they had not brought 
blacks to wield them, implying that in no way could the Indians be induced to use them. ” 

Thus, the Calusa did not “play by the script’’ of the rise of the typical warlike kingdom subjugating peoples around it. Its 
surplus did not come from the ground in the form of domesticated crops, but from the sea. The Calusa did not have a 
peasantry, and according to William H. Marquardt, this time in “Tracking the Calusa: A Retrospective, ” found in 
Southeastern Archaeology in 2014, they did not have slavery either (2). Indeed, while there may have been shortages at 
times (which we will discuss below), overall there was no need to store or dry food because their food sources were 
theoretically abundant and always available. In contrast to the salmon-based food culture of the Pacific Northwest, the 
character of Calusa fishing was not dependent on seasonal abundance. As Randolph J. Widmer describes in his book 
dissertation, The Evolution of the Calusa: A Nonagricultural Chiefdom on the Southwest Florida Coast'. 

“While numerous studies of sociopolitical evolution have been made for terrestrial, agricultural adaptations, to my 
knowledge only the Northwest Coast of North America has been subject to empirical studies of coastal adaptation similar to 
the present one [i.e. the Calusa]. Still, these coastal adaptations are markedly different from the one in Southwest Florida, 
since the latter adaptation was tropical and involved pseudocatadromous, rather than anadromous, fish resources. 
Pseudocatadromous fish spend their lives in the inshore estuarine zones and breed offshore at sea, the opposite of 
anadromous fish, and are therefore available throughout the year. Even during periods of offshore spawning these fish 
aggregate in large masses before moving offshore and are at optimal availability for human use. Some species, notably sea 
trout, spend their entire life cycle in the estuary. Thus the availability of pseudocatadromous fish in tropical estuarine 

environments is dependent on the primary productivity of the habitat, since that is where they obtain their food. In an 
anadromous inshore habitat, primary productivity is not important because the waters are used mainly for breeding rather 
than feeding. ” (8) 

Widmer elaborates later in his text: 

“Certain coastal, aquatic ecosystems can be much more productive for human exploitation than natural terrestrial, 
nonagricultural systems. Not only is productivity extremely high — approaching if not equaling, that possible with 
agricultural systems — but unlike anadromous fish resources, they are available on a continuous year-round basis, not just 
during the spawning period. The stability is due to the primary productivity of the region in general, which dictates the 
trophic structure of the area, rather than to the amenability of a river for the spawning behavior of certain fish species. ” 

Widmer also presents an argument at the end of the book as to why the Calusa never felt compelled to adopt agriculture. In 
the first place, their coastal environment was not amenable to large scale agriculture. Secondly, the interior of the southern 
end of the Florida peninsula also could not sustain agricultural production. Widmer points out that in many places where 
large coastal societies develop, people in the interior usually enter into a productive relationship with the coast wherein they 
produce greater amounts of calorie-rich staples such as maize, taro, manioc, etc. The adaptive system thus begins to integrate 
both the protein-rich production of coastal fishing with agricultural production of the interior agricultural regions. Such a 
model could not take place in southern Florida for geographical regions: 

“South Florida is one of the rare tropical environmental regions where agriculture is not feasible in the adjoining interior. 
The Manus ’ ethnographic situation is another such example. The highly productive zone is therefore very circumscribed, 
with an almost eight-to-one demographic edge on the interior population. Interestingly, it seems that maize agriculture was 
practiced for a while in the Lake Okeechobee area, possibly taking advantage of this trade potential, although more likely 
the context was ritual. It seems to have been abandoned after 1000 A.D. most probably owing to the rise of the water table, 
which compounded the difficulties - that is, drained areas followed by ridge-field development — encountered in growing the 
crop in the first place. For these reasons, few coastal tropical coastal adaptations which rely primarily on fish are found. ” 

Further, other resources such as fresh water were at times scarce in the region, which necessitated a central authority to 
allocate. It appears that the Calusa created cisterns, canals, and other structures to store and transport fresh water to their 
villages, which meant higher village populations wherein disputes had to be resolved. Thus, the situation, “leads to a need for 
leadership or centralized authority for quelling disputes. Since higher social tensions are tolerated, the ever-present need for 
individuals to resolve disputes would favor the development of fixed - that is, hierarchical — leadership and centralized 
authority. ..(265). 

Thus, the very geography of the region where the Calusa inhabited was, according to Widmer, highly favorable to sedentism 
(due to the highly productive fishing areas) but unfavorable to agriculture. This dynamic created the conditions for the 
formation of a unique social formation where hierarchy and “complex” society could develop without “delayed returns” or 
significant food storage. This formation is the rare but still known “hunter-gatherer-fishing” society, though it is unclear 
when the predecessors of the Calusa in Southern Florida became fully sedentary. Widmer’s premise at least is that the Calusa 
grew from sedentary fishing communities into a larger kingdom of conquest due to a stabilization of sea level and climate 
leading to abundance of fish stocks, and the reaching of carrying capacity on their land at around 800 A.D. This necessitated 
conquest and the seeking of the augmentation of resources outside of their traditional territories in the form of tribute from 
neighboring tribes. For example, Widmer discusses the likelihood of roots being demanded as tribute by the Calusa from 
tribes in the interior: 

“Because the Calusa has a large demographic base, at least eight times that found in the interior, political usurpation 
through military conquest was easy. Such usurpation, documented in Fontaneda ’s memoir, could result in a situation where 
interior groups would be forced to produce or to collect roots well in excess of their own needs to avoid punitive raids by 
numerically superior military groups from the coast. Therefore, threat of military coercion would be one of the means of 
obtaining excess roots from the interior. The incentive for production would be great, because military parties could raid 
villages which did not meet production quotas. The threat of military coercion would also foster political alliances and 
bolster political power of the controlling coastal paramountcy. The demographic imbalance would result in a valuable 
adaptive advantage to military intensification, and I argue that this is one of the key reasons for the military profile found in 
the Calusa adaptation. ” (275) 

William H. Marquardt has recently questioned Widmer’s narrative on many important fronts in a recent 2014 Southeastern 
Archaeology essay. He upholds the evidence that the role of agriculture or horticulture in Calusa society was minimal, and 

that their sustenance came primarily 
from fishing as well as hunting and 
gathering from inland sources. However, 
he disputes Widmer’s position of the 
Calusa having continuous and sustained 
abundance leading up to the formation 
of a complex polity around the first 
millennium of the present epoch. 

Marquardt states that recent evidence 
requires a more dynamic view of the 
conditions under which the Calusa 
polity evolved. Firstly, Marquardt 
states that the evidence does not support 
a stabilization of sea level and climate 
leading up to the formation of the 
Calusa “kingdom”. Instead, the sea 
level and climatic conditions of 
southern Florida continued to be 
dynamic, as was the availability of the resources tied into the growth of the Calusa polity. While “rich estuarine resources” 
were essential to the formation of the Calusa chiefdom, other factors played a role in its consolidation, namely, its trade and 
cultural interactions during the Early Mississippian period in the now U.S. Southeast (A.D. 1000-1200). Overall, as 
Marquardt states: 

“Goggin and Sturtevant and Widmer are correct that rich estuarine resources played an important role, but it is now clear 
that the Calusa were most successful during sea-level transgressions that brought a diverse and ample array of fish for the 
taking and were most challenged when sea level fell. Even when sea level was relatively high, warm sea-surface 
temperatures fostered more frequent and large storms which could be destructive. In sum, new evidence discussed above 
confirms the Calusa ’s environment’s immense potential but also its heterogeneity, dynamism, and vulnerability to abrupt 
climate changes and stochastic weather events. I suggest that the Calusa entered into social relations with people of other 
polities and adjusted their relationship to the changing physical structures of their world. In doing so, they transformed 
nature and transformed themselves. ” (13) 

Marquardt also posits in his 2014 essay the likelihood of the gradual evolution of the Calusa polity from “heterarchy” to 
hierarchy. That is, Marquardt remains unconvinced that the paramount Calusa chiefdom was something that preceded 
contact with Europeans in the 16 th century, and may have been a product of it. (14) Also, such consolidation of power may 
have been the result of long-standing rivalry with a rival neighboring tribe and the power relations that this created: 

“I suggest that when longstanding relations of reciprocity within South Florida were challenged by Tocobaga expansion, the 
Calusa leadership attempted to impose a system of patronage / clientage on people to the south and east with whom they had 
long enjoyed cooperative heterarchical relations. In other words, the leaders of the Calusa may have believed that coercive 
power was needed to replace consensual power if the Calusa polity was to respond effectively to the aggressive expansion of 
the Tocobaga, with its emerging Mississippian connections. Even so, I see no reason to conclude a state level of political 
complexity the Calusa social formation during the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries. ” (15) 

At the risk of contradicting an expert, I have to state that I find Marquardt’ s certainty of the sudden transformation of the 
Calusa polity into a state rather odd and unconvincing. It seems that, when the Spaniards first encounter the Calusa, they had 
a system of protocol and societal hierarchy firmly in place. I believe at times that modern people like to impose their 
perceptions of how they perceive time and change on what has occurred in the past, without taking into consideration that 
“primitive peoples” were often fiercely conservative and stalwart when it came to their received way of life. It has only been 
recently that modem humanity has adopted the truism: “change is good.” Ancient peoples, on the other hand, more often 
than not found change anathema: the past was at least known, and the future was never guaranteed to be better, indeed, it had 
a good chance of not being so. Thus, I am skeptical that there was a sudden emergence of a complex polity when faced with 
the Spanish existential threat, even one that was somewhat distant at the time. There must have been more continuity here 
than Marquardt lets on, I believe, especially since this is clearly only one reading of archaeological evidence. 

I believe that Hutchinson et. al.’s paper supports these doubts when it states the following concerning the consistent 
abundance of resources produced by South Florida estuaries: 

"Recent reconsiderations of complexity for coastal populations, however, have questioned the stability of coastal resources 
citing ample evidence of periods of fluctuating instability. They have in turn emphasized the importance of other cultural 

mechanisms, such as resource exchange, in fulfilling subsistence needs during times of uncertainty... 

[More recent] multiple lines of evidence confirm that marine-based protein and terrestrial C3 plants provided a large and 
reliable portion of the diet in southwestern Florida as early as 4000 years ago and up to European contact. ” (55) 

The Calusa diet was thus solidly sea-based, with no need for complex exchange to augment their subsistence. 

Kelsey Marie McGuire in her Master’s thesis, “They are rich only by the sea: Testing a model to investigate Calusa Salvage 
of 16 th - and early 17 th century Spanish shipwrecks,” states the following concerning the chronology of the Calusa polity: 
“This primary account suggests that a stable Calusa chief dom existed prior to the conquest of Cuba, which occurred in 
1511. Regardless of the specifics, the Calusa seemed to have had a vast, organized territory under their control by the time 
of European contact. ” (10) 

Overall, what we can know of the Calusa is the following: they were an advanced chiefdom on the southwest coast of 
Florida that had no agriculture to speak of and prospered off of the surplus of the sea, even if that surplus was uncertain at 
times. A complex polity most likely emerged in order to distribute and organize resources needed for their hunter-gatherer- 
fishing lifestyle such as water and fishing territory. Gradually this chiefdom developed until it was encountered by the 
Spanish and perceived as a complex kingdom with a paramount leader, “palaces,” and a nobility, but no agriculture. In the 
next section, we will discuss what the Spanish encountered in terms of the shape of Calusa society and beliefs. 

3. The shape of Calusa life 

Zach Zorich begins his essay, “The Fisher Kings,” found in Hakai Magazine with a narrative of the hostile greeting the 
Calusa gave to the Spanish when they first approached their shores: 

“In 1517, indigenous fishermen watched warily as Spanish ships dropped anchor off the mangrove-lined shores of southern 
Florida. Only a quarter century had passed since Christopher Columbus and his crewmen first landed on an island in the 
Bahamas, but word of the foreigners ’ hunger for land, slaves, and gold had spread along the coasts of the Caribbean and 
the Gulf of Mexico. In Cuba, 385 kilometers south of Florida, Spanish forces had recently taken brutal control of the island, 
enslaving many of the indigenous Talno. So when 20 Spanish soldiers and sailors waded ashore in southern Florida to 
replenish their ships ’ water supplies, the local inhabitants were ready. 

One of the Spanish soldiers, Bernal Diaz del Castillo, later chronicled the battle. Florida 's indigenous fighters, Diaz noted, 
'had immense sized bows with sharp arrows, lances, and spears — among these some were shaped like swords — while their 
large powerful bodies were covered with the skins of wild beasts. ’ The attack was swift and ferocious. The first volley of 
arrows alone injured six Spanish soldiers. The rest barely escaped with their lives, fleeing back to the ship with the water 
they so badly needed. ” 

Soon the Spanish would return again, this time welcomed by the Calusa “king,” Carlos, who sought Spanish help for his own 
power struggles and to bolster his profile throughout the region with Spanish trade goods. In exchange, the Spanish 
demanded what they demanded from all of their conquered peoples: submission to the “One True Catholic Faith” and that 
they become good peasants in the fields under to the Spanish crown. In this, the Calusa would prove most problematic for 
their would-be conquerors. The Calusa had a complex religion based on a pantheon of gods, a clerical caste, and the supreme 
ruler who was the manifestation of the divine will. Their clinging to paganism, as well as their idea of the cosmos, would 
drive them to resist the Spanish for the next two centuries. 

Before explaining the resistance of the Calusa to Christian religious forms, we should backtrack and describe in depth 
various aspects of Calusa society. A good summary of what we know concerning Calusa life and thought is found in the 
Darcie A. MacMahon and Wiliam H. Marquardt book, The Calusa and Their Legacy: South Florida People and Their 
Environment. This book is valuable in that it also extensively describes the South Florida environment, as well as its flora 
and fauna. Going into detail on these latter items is beyond the scope of this essay, but is recommended as a source for 
further study. 

The Calusa are known to have consumed fifty species of fish and twenty kinds of mollusks and crustaceans, along with land 
animals, sea birds, and various plant species. The Calusa subsistence strategy of fishing and gathering maritime products 
required the fabrication of nets, hooks, spears and other implements from plant materials and shells, among other resources 
(3). The Calusa, as was mentioned above, were extremely proficient at the manufacture and use of dugout canoes, most 
likely from pine and cypress, and could travel as far as Cuba, which was 90 miles away, if needed (ibid, 73). More notably, 
the Calusa were able to organize enough labor for the construction of canals, mounds, and even entire settlements that were 
made from middens that later transformed into the foundations of larger structures. Some Calusa earthworks, such as a canal 
at the Pineland Site Complex, are still visible today. (95) 

The Calusa built their houses on top of these mounds for protection from the elements (storms, flooding etc.) and other 
tribes. The largest of these was reserved for the Calusa “cacique” or leader, as described in the Spanish chronicles, thought 
now to be on Mound Key near Estero Bay: 

“2000 men might gather [in the cacique’s house] without being very crowded... [Governor Menendez de Aviles] entered the 
cacique ’s house alone, with about 20 gentleman, and stood where there were some large windows, through which he could 
see his men: the cacique was in a large room, alone on a [raised] seat with a great show of authority, and with an Indian 
woman, also seated, a little apart from him... and there were about 500 principal Indian men and 500 women; the men were 
near him, and the women near her, below them. ” (95) 

As insinuated in the above quote, Calusa society was a class society divided between the supreme leadership, a class of 
nobles, and commoners. The Calusa leadership consisted of a supreme leader (a “king”, who was expected to marry his own 
“sister” - perhaps a close relative — among other things), a military leader, and a spiritual leader, and was intricately tied into 
Calusa beliefs, as MacMahon and Marquardt indicate: 

“The spiritual and material realms made up one seamless and world for the south Florida native people. According to 
documents, common people believed in the absolute power of the Calusa leader. His power was a function of — and proof of 
— his identification with both the practical and the spiritual features of the everyday world. As their leader prospered, the 
land and the waters would continue to bring forth their abundance. His struggles, his wars and alliances, and his dealings 
with the spirits of the dead were in the interests of all; and whatever he required of them had to be given without question. 
Spiritual authority and political authority, easily discussed separately in our society, were for the Calusa one and the same. ” 

The Calusa, though they wore little clothing, took great care of their personal adornment that also served a spiritual purpose: 
“Body paint was common, especially on ritual occasions, and had a spiritual significance. In 1568 Spanish Jesuit 
missionary Juan Rogel noted that the Calusa leader wore his hair long and stained his face and his body black. Commenting 
on events in the Florida Keyes in 1743, Joseph Javier Alaha and Joseph Maria wrote that ‘the men paint themselves 
variously almost every day, a custom they practice, we have learned, for the honor of the principal idol that they venerate. 

( MacMahon and Marquardt, 4). 

Calusa mortuary practice was also notable and elaborate: 

“The Calusa buried their dead in mounds or cemeteries. They feared the dead and placed food, herbs, and tobacco offerings 
for the departed on mats at the burial places. Skulls of animals (such as stags, turtles, and barracudas) were also placed at 
gravesites. The Calusa consulted their dead ancestors in order to foretell the future or to learn of happenings in other 
places. ” (ibid) 

Calusa ceremony and art could be extremely elaborate. Choirs of 500 women were observed by the Spaniards singing on 
special festive occasions, and wooden figures of animals and masks have been found by archeologists and can be seen to this 
day in museums in Florida. The Calusa carved these artifacts using shark teeth and other materials, and decorated the interior 
of their temples in honor of fierce idols which the Spanish feared upon encountering them (ibid). 

MacMahon and Marquardt go on to state, “The Calusa steadfastly refused to accept Spanish beliefs and Spanish authority, 
successfully resisting European intrusion for nearly 200 years after Ponce de Leon’s first incursion.” (85) 

Kelsey McGuire elaborates upon this point in her thesis: 

“Calusa objects, ideologies, and politics were unique to native Southeastern culture. Their naturalistic, non-agricultural 
motifs suggest that their aesthetic culture was similar to that of the Hopewell; yet their tool assemblage drew heavily from 

Archaic influences, and their sociopolitical interactions were similar to those of large-scale Mississippian societies. Perhaps 
their unique qualities were exactly what equipped them to resist Spanish dominance until the 18 ,h century. As this thesis 
contends, the Calusa were selective in accepting anything with the potential to compromise their way of life or the authority 
of their chief Meanwhile, neighboring tribes and chief doms willingly exchanged aspects of their aboriginal cultures for 
Spanish goods, ideological regimes, and political control. ” (21-22) 

4. The struggle against Christianity 

Before discussing Calusa religion and the Spaniards’ 
opposition to it, I feel that it is appropriate to discuss 
briefly the schism in the modern mind between religion 
and knowledge. To get immediately to the point, religion for 
the vast majority of its existence has been an eminently practical 
thing. That is, how people believed and how they knew were 
one in the same. That is because human beings usually do not 
have the luxury to make leaps of faith, hoping against hope. 

“Blessed art they who have not seen, yet believe,” would 
have been an unfathomable premise to any “primitive” person, 
and this was most likely the case with the Calusa. Their spirits 
and their environment were one, their religious practice and 
their way of life were one, and there was no reason to doubt 
them because they were based on the things that constituted their 
daily reality. The Calusa believed in a world full of gods, 
that we cannot possibly conceive of in our very Western and very 
secularized mentality. Thus, challenging their beliefs was 
challenging their way of life. Out of most of the peoples of their 
region, it was the Calusa who held out the longest in their beliefs. 

They were never conquered, but rather disappeared gradually, along 
with the spiritual world which they inhabited. 

As indicated above, the initial contact between the Calusa and the 
Spanish was one of hostility. Part of that hostility centered on Spanish 
attempts to convert the Calusa to Catholicism, a task that entailed, in 
the Spanish mind, the Calusa finally taking up agriculture and 
Spanish customs. The Calusa, with their priestly caste and nobility, 
as well as an established animist theology, resisted the overtures of 
the Catholic priests and friars vehemently, using violence when 
necessary. John H. Hann edited and translated the correspondence of 
these Spanish missionaries between the 16 th and 18 th century in his 
book, Missions to the Calusa. The reaction of the Spanish to Calusa 
religious practices was usually one of horror, as well as to the intransigence of the Calusa in binding themselves to their 
pagan beliefs. This intransigence is characterized in the following passage: 

“Throughout this period south Florida ’s natives continued to cling to their own religious traditions, although in times of 
stress they spoke of being willing to become Christians in order to obtain what they wanted from Spanish authorities. For 
most such statements seem to have been no more than a ploy. In 1 743 Alaha remarked that although the ‘idolatrous errors 
and superstitions of this people are of the crudest sort... what is surprising is the very tenacious attachment with which they 
maintain toward all this and the ridicule they make of beliefs contraiy [to theirs] ” 

Fr. Joseph Javier Alana, a Spanish missionary, wrote an extensive description of the Calusa idols that he saw as well as some 
religious practices, which is worth quoting extensively: 

"... We saw two idols. The principal one is a board sheathed in dearskin with its poorly formed image of a fish that looks 
like a barracuda and other figures like tongues. They have [now] hidden this one, because one day we stepped on it with the 
purpose of freeing them experientially of the fear of the disasters that they thought would follow such disrespect for it. And 
we have but slight hope of taking it from them without violence. The other idol, which is the God of the cemetery, the theater 
of their most visible superstitions, was a head of a bird, sculpted in pine, which in the matter of hideousness well represented 
its original, and which we burned after it had been smashed, along with the hut that they had for a church, which it 
appeared to us that it could not be done without a tumult on the part of the Indians, as proved to be the case, although not 
without many signs of grief and even lamentations and tears from their women. In the said church they had the most ugly 

mask destined for the festivals of the principal idol, which was placed there on top of a table or altar. And they call it sipi or 
sipil. We also saw a large log which, on certain days, they adorn with flowers and with feathers and celebrate, at the foot of 
which some silver had been buried that the Indians removed. They have an Indian whom they call bishop, consecrated with 
three days of races. He drinks many times until he passes out. And they think such a one dies and returns sanctified. There is 
another Indian whom they call tirupo or like God, terms that are synonymous for them, whom they consult concerning the 
future and the distant. He is considered to be the doctor of the place. His remedies are great growls and gestures that he 
makes over the one who is ill, adorning himself with feathers and painting himself horribly. And he is indeed a man who has 
in his appearance I do not know just what traces of [being] an instrument of the Devil. 

They venerate the cacique and his sons with incensing in which the bishop takes part. At his death and that of other leading 
men they kill children so that they may serve them in the other life, a cruel ceremony that they practice in the [celebration of] 
peaces [as well], "(422-423) 

Escalante Fontaneda, quoted by Marquardt in “The Emergence and Demise of the Calusa,” gives further description of the 
role of human sacrifice in Calusa religious practice: 

“Those [Indians] of Carlos firstly have the custom [that] each time a child of the cacique dies, each resident sacrifices his 
sons or daughters who go in company of the death of the child of the cacique. / The second sacrifice is that when a cacique 
himself dies, or the cacica, they kill his or her own servants, and this is the second sacrifice. / The third sacrifice is that they 
kill each year a Christian captive in order to feed their idol which they adore, and which they say eats the eyes of the human 
male and eats the head. They dance each year, which they have for custom./ And the fourth sacrifice is that after the summer 
come some sorcerers in the shape of the devil with some horns on their heads, and they come howling like wolves and many 
other different idols which yell like animals in the woods, and these idols stay four months, in which they never rest night or 
day, running so much with great fury. What a thing to relate the great bestiality that they do! ” (166) 

Fray Feliciano Fopez describes a temple of the Calusa in the following passage: 

“While examining the village because of having heard much celebration on the preceding night, and not seeing anything 
more than a house in the area where I heard them, they say [it is] the house of Mahoma, and when I was unprepared for it, 
all the Indians came running and yelling so that I reckoned my hour had arrived, but I took it as a joke, making them think 
that I had not seen it. And as they saw me in celebration they themselves showed me everything. It is a very tall and wide 
house with its door and a [hole] in the middle of the hillock or very high flat-topped mound and on top of it a sort of room 
[made] of mats with seats all closed. One can imagine the purpose it serves. They dance around it. The walls are entirely 
covered with masks, one worse than the other. The cacique [has] given his word to me that we may destroy the house, but by 
my poor understanding they are opposing it. May God help me and give me his divine assistance as, at this date, I am much 
afflicted. ” (159-160) 

The friar continued: 

“I had written up to this point, when two leading Indians called me in great secrecy this night, the vespers of St. Matthew, 
and told me that I should withdraw inside and remain at home with my friars because their Holy One was very irritated. And 
when I told them that my God was more powerful than their Holy One, they told me not to jest and that I should care how I 
proceeded. The matter deprived me of my sleep, but we are already in the palisade. And it appears to me that on the first 
next occasion that we return to the house of their superstitions, they will knock us down ...” (160) 

Fr. Juan Rogel was a Jesuit priest who tried to convert the Calusa in the 16 th century. In the process, he recorded many of the 
beliefs of the Calusa that he learned in his discussions with them: 

“And on explaining to them the creation of the soul, I corrected many errors that they have about it, which I shall explain to 
your Reverence so that you may understand how blind these poor men are. They say that each man has three souls. One is 
the little pupil of the eye; another is the shadow that each one casts; and the last is the image of oneself that one sees in a 
mirror or in a calm pool of water. And that when a man dies, they say that two of the souls leave the body and that the third 
one, which is the pupil of the eye, remains in the body always. And thus they go to the burial place to speak with the 
deceased ones and to ask their advice about the things that they have to do as if they were alive. And I believe that the devil 
speaks to them there, because from what they [the deceased [ say to them there, they learn about many things that happen in 
other regions or that come to pass later. They tell them that they should kill Christians and other evil things... 

They have another error also, that when a man dies, his soul enters into some animal or fish. And when they kill such an 
animal, his soul enters into a lesser one so that little by little it reaches the point of being reduced to nothing. And they are so 
fixed in this belief that there is need for special favor and help from God in order to persuade them of the immortality of the 
soul and the resurrection of the dead and the reward and punishment of the next life. They laugh at me when I tell them in 
the catechism lessons that all the souls of many men as there have been in the world are alive in heaven or in hell and that 
they cannot die. And that they have to return again to be joined with their bodies and to live immortally; and that they are to 

be rewarded or punished in accord with the works that they have done in this world. ” ( 237-238 ) 

Fr. Joseph Javier Alana confirmed this report in the 18 th century in his official report on the Calusa: 

“In the midst of this they obstinately affirm that human souls do not survive their bodies, swallowing the absurdity of their 
not being any better than the beasts, laughing at the strongest of arguments, and turning their backs [to us] when they were 
confounded by having their own erroneous practices thrown up to them. ” (424) 

Rogel went on to state that the Calusa believed in a sort of trinity of three divine persons who governed the world, human 
societies, and war, respectively; and that their power went in descending order of importance. 

The Spanish clerics were also appalled by the lack of morality among the Calusa, especially their tolerance of random killing 
and homosexuality, as well as their lack of use of discipline in bringing up their children: 

“[I]n the teaching of the children, no punishment at all is to be used. [This was] the first condition that the chief proposed to 
us in the name of all. Nor is it something to be surprised over. The passion that they have for their [children ] reaches the 
extremity of suffering blows from them; of actually burning themselves or cutting themselves to show their grief over the 
same thing having happened by accident to the [child], without the father ever enjoying any sign of reverence from 
them. (421 ) 

It is thus no surprise then that the hostility of the Calusa toward the Catholic priests sent to convert them could reach levels 
of exceptional cruelty and violence, including death (425). Fr. Alana summarized their hostility saying: 

“[T]hey ridicule the God of the Christians, denying his role in the creation of things and stating that they came to be by 
themselves and denying him as well the power to prevent men from carrying out what they wish to do and other blasphemies 
of this nature. ” (424) 

Fray Feliciano Lopez and companions recount the following anecdote from their failed 1698 mission to convert the Calusa: 
“And that on another day, that he does not remember what [day] it was, while the cacique was in the house of the religious 
with all the Indians annoying them, the father commissary having said to the cacique that he should order the Indians to 
leave and let the religious pray, the said cacique became angry and gave said father commissary a number of blows to the 
face. And that when he had gone to the old chief to complain, the young one and the Indians went along behind him. This 
witness and another two religious followed them [in turn and] they saw that the young chief drove away with blows the said 
father commissary from the bed of the said old chief on which he was sitting, and that after he had gone outside the house he 
raised a cudgel to hit him, that this witness grabbed him from behind and blocked the intent, and that on this occasion one of 
the Indians from the crowd came up to the priest Fray Miguel Carrillo and rubbed human excrement on his face, and that on 
the vespers of St. Andrew an Indian came up to this same religious to try to make him lose his temper while he was praying, 
and when he did not succeed in this, he urinated on him saying to him, 'man boy, why are you so small?’” (171) 

The end of this mission proved no less unpleasant for the friars, as the Calusa proved so hostile that the friars asked to leave, 
and then were robbed of all of their possession, even their clothes, in the process. (37) Much of the perceived progress of the 
preaching of Christianity in the missions was purely mercenary on the part of the Calusa: they only stayed if offered Spanish 
goods, especially rum, and left the missions once these ran out (426). Fr. Alana asked the Crown at some point for sentinels 
to watch the Indians at his mission, as the Calusa were, “a nomadic people and one that lives on the sea more than on the 
land, even the little girls and women, may disappear very easily. ” (425) Indeed, one lament by the Spanish missionaries was 
how easy it was for the Calusa to simply run off and, “go off to eat palm fruit and alligators. ” (370) 

One interesting twist in studying the Calusa in this historical period is the ease in acquiring Spanish goods that were so 
coveted by native peoples of that region by means of salvage. Kelsey Marie McGuire in her thesis indicates that the 
southwestern coast of Florida, which was under Calusa control, was a common place for Spanish shipwrecks, and salvage of 
Spanish goods became a vital part of internal and external Calusa relationships: 

“In order to sustain a resource base for redistribution, the paramount chief [of the Calusa] maintained a tribute system. His 
resources originated within and beyond his territorial boundaries. Typical tribute items included food, women, feathers, 
hides, woven mats, shipwreck spoils, and shipwreck captives. He selected treasures from among the more valuable goods to 
build his private collection, which, at Mound Key [the Calusa capital] included silver and gold ornaments, beads, trinkets, 
and a dais-style bench. Lesser chiefs repeated the process of caching and redistributing in their own villages. For 
commoners, this cycle of redistribution meant diversity in food and material resources. For the paramount chief, the cycle 
spelled out absolute control over the availability of native and non-native goods. In addition, circulation of resources 
reinforced hierarchies, fomented inner-village alliances, and assisted the paramount chief in resolving disputes between 
vassals. Av the Calusa were just one of seven native groups in South Florida, it was important for the paramount chief to 

maintain avenues of internal solidarity. ” (15-16) 

Thus, the only things that the Spanish could use as leverage to bring the Calusa into the colonial fold, their manufactured 
goods, were readily available to the Calusa by other avenues, and those were controlled by the heads of the Calusa polity. No 
doubt this played some role in the Calusa refusal of Spanish overtures at domination, ideological or otherwise. 

Nevertheless, the near complete demise of the Calusa as a people came in the 18 th century. War between the English and the 
Spanish pushed northern tribes into southern Florida, thus overwhelming the original inhabitants who were often enslaved by 
them for sale to the English. A Calusa chief fled to Cuba with 270 natives in 1711, and many followed later. Most of these 
refugees died of disease on arrival, and the Calusa quickly faded from history. (MacMahon and Marquardt, 170). Though 
never conquered, historical forces consigned the Calusa cosmovision, culture, and pantheon to the great mausoleum of 
societies extinguished by civilization. 

Lessons from the Calusa 

Widmer, in his book-length dissertation on the Calusa, describes the following general principles behind the behavior of 
living organisms in relation to their environment: 

“Still, because these subsistence strategies tend to maximize their net yield, this behavior can be theoretically understood, 
using other general behavioral and ecological models for analyzing feeding strategy or other aspects of adaptation. Since 
human populations articulate with an environment, just as other species do, theoretical principles which have been 
developed from ecological studies of other animals can have direct applicability to human populations as well, particularly 
as they relate to increased energy capture and efficiency. For example, Pianka (1974), in a discussion of evolutionary 
ecology, shows how an animal will adapt its feeding strategy to the structure of its environment to maximize the capture of 
energy and resources necessary to its survival. ” (16) 

The author Jon Young, in the book. What the Robin Knows: How Birds Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World, describes 
the same principle in another context: 

“At all times, baseline conserves energy, because conservation of energy is a major priority of all animals, but especially for 
birds, almost all of whom run on a very lean energy budget. (A chickadee startled from its roost on a very cold night in the 
dead of winter loses the vital heat trapped in its feathers. This bird may well die by dawn.)... First imagine hying to feed 
your own hungry self off a landscape. Have you ever tried this? Now imagine feeding five starving teenagers off the 
landscape, and you ’ll know why birds conserve energy, particularly when they ’re also singing to mark their territories. 
Conservation of energy is why the ground bird that knows that a particular cat can jump only four feet off the ground will 
ascend to a branch five feet up, but not fifty feet or even fifteen feet, which would be a waste of energy. ” (9) 

Here we can analyze the Calusa adaptation to the southern Florida environment as animals and not as “rational political 
actors” with the benefit of foresight on issues such as personal autonomy and hierarchy. In summary of what we wrote 
above, the Calusa were one of the last in a long line of shore dwellers who had inhabited the southwest Florida coast for 
thousands of years, becoming increasingly sedentary due to the exploitation of abundant fisheries where food was available 
year round. Due to a continuous cycle of plentiful and less plentiful years, and possibly due to interactions with complex 
Mississippian societies to the north, they became themselves a paramount chiefdom dominating adjacent tribes, all without 
radically altering their hunter-gatherer-fisher lifestyle. They knew of agriculture but never adopted it due to geographic and 
cultural factors. Such a cultural evolution also gave birth to a complex culture and theology wherein the fate of the cosmos 
was a reflection of the well-being of the polity, though their gods took the form of various fauna around them. They 
maintained their shifty ways and had such “hunter-gatherer” characteristics as refusing to discipline their children and not 
seeing themselves as different from the other animals with which they shared their environment. This was at least the 
ideological reason why the Spanish friars could not convert them: they were undomesticated and undomesticatable in the 
Spanish eyes, yet they remained warlike and rigidly hierarchical. 

In this sense, we see the Calusa as a sui generis people formed by the unique environment of south Florida. We may even go 
out on a limb and state that they were the product of their gods and their vision of the spirit world, of their dead who told 
them to kill the Christian intruders. It is a shame that they fell so shockingly short of the fully nomadic, immediate returns 
hunter-gatherer paradigm that is the apex of anarcho-primitivist sanctity, but we would hope that the priests of that ideology 
find it in their hearts to forgive them of their mortal sins of hierarchy and authority. . . 

All jesting aside, we return here then to the accusation that we leveled at the beginning of the essay, namely, that anarcho- 
primitivists of the Zerzan / Tucker school are anthropocentric and rationalist. In their treatment of the social engineering of 
human societies, the best description of their overall attitude comes, appropriately enough, from the writings of Karl Marx, 
and specifically his magnum opus. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. 

“A spider conducts operations which resemble those of a weaver, and a bee would put many a human architect to shame by 
the construction of its honeycomb cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is that the architect 
builds the cell in his mind before he constructs it in wax. At the end of every labour process, a result emerges which had 
already been conceived by the worker at the beginning, hence it already existed ideally. Man not only effects change of form 
in materials of nature; he also realizes his own purpose in those materials. And this is a purpose he is conscious of, it 
determines his mode of activity with the rigidity of a law, and he must subordinate his will to it. ” (284) 

In his more philosophical musing of his youth, specifically, the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, Marx is 
even more concise and specific, couching the same point in Hegelian language: 

“Man is a species-being, not only because he practically and theoretically makes the species - both his own and those of 
other things - his object, but also — and this is simply another way of saying the same thing — because he looks upon himself 
as the present, living species, because he looks upon himself as a universal and therefore free being. ’’ 

Unlike the Calusa divines, and more like Marx, then, the “re -wilding” anarcho-primitivist bestows upon domesticated 
humans raised in civilization the divine power to know what can constitute a perfectly egalitarian society, as well as the 
power of will to accomplish such a plan (though with much effort, and only seemingly for the predestined few, certainly). As 
their slogan goes, “We have seen the world that we want to live in and we will fight for it.” Human nature and the shape of 
any given human society are entirely transparent and static; they exist in our heart of hearts if only we purge domesticated 
thinking, renounce the right things, and run off to a little corner of Alaska or similar wilderness to carry it out in peace and 
tranquility. Of course, civilization will come intruding, which is why we must form “communities of resistance” which can 
respond appropriately. None of this, mind you, has anything to do with the imperceptible adaptations of peoples over 
thousands of years in particular environments, ones which created a myriad of adaptations which lasted for centuries with 
varying degrees of success. No, true human nature has all been scientifically distilled into Absolute Knowledge available in 
freshman-level anthropology textbooks, to be realized by those with the appropriate ambition and gumption to “tough it out” 
in hostile environments. 

To say then that man is “an animal”, tossed about by the hands of fate like any other, is “despair”. It’s “nihilism” to think 
that, like the numerous other animals going extinct, we can’t save ourselves. It is verboten to suspect that, just as modern 
technological civilization buried hundreds if not thousands of other societies, with their own visions of the cosmos, man, and 
community, perhaps our own society won’t last much longer. Anarcho-primitivism is man deified because it envisions 
modem human creating a society like they’re standing in a buffet line, picking and choosing the qualities that most appeal to 
them (egalitarianism, mobility, personal autonomy, gender parity etc.) and leaving the rest. Never mind that no other animal 
has this luxury (and neither do humans, but don’t tell them that.) Along with the ancient Roman priests, the anarcho- 
primitivist utters, Quod licet lovi non licet bovi. [What is permissible for Jove is not permissible for the ox.] 

In contrast, eco-extremist pessimism is only pessimism for civilized humanity. The Whole of living and non-living beings on 
Earth will continue in one form or another. The forces (or gods or whatever you want to call them) that created societies like 
a multiplicity of flowers in a meadow will continue on; they will create new things and destroy them again. Eco-extremists 
are a weak force in that nature, but a force all the same. War and revenge are natural responses, especially when faced with 
the hostility, ugliness, and falsehood of civilized life. These were the same responses of the Teochichimecas, the Selk’nam, 
the Yahi, and yes, the “civilized” Calusa. Eco-extremists may continue to draw their inspiration mostly from warlike 
nomadic hunter-gatherers, but I would speculate that, given the choice between a Calusa “king” obedient to his gods and 
nature, and a humanist green anarchist playing social engineer, they would choose the former as an ally, even if this is a 
purely academic exercise. 

What is the eco-extremist in the light of these reflections? He is also a product of his environment, of the city that is the tomb 
of forests, swamps, plains, and wetlands; of modern knowledge which has collected all previous forms of knowledge like 
dead animals in a taxidermy collection; of a society where everything is bought and sold to the highest bidder. If he has no 
gods to speak of, it is because the modern human being is, as Jacques Camatte wrote, “dead” and a “ritual of capital,” an 
afterthought of money creating more money, destroying more of the Earth, and enslaving every free moment of our modem 
lives. He is cut off from the mountains and rivers that can speak to him, the swamps where he can take refuge, the creatures 
that can be his totems, his inspiration, and his defenders. It is no surprise, then, that his only gods become rage and revenge, 
the spirits of an almost blind lashing out. What other reaction is possible? To echo the Italian nihilists’ citation of a criminal 
thug: “The only God I believe in is a loaded pistol with a hair trigger.” 

That doesn’t seem very fair, and it probably isn’t, but the “gods” aren’t fair. We did not choose to be born into a total war of 
civilization against the last vestiges of Wild Nature, but here we are. Not everyone can be born into a time of peace, stasis, 
and tranquility; where the solutions to one’s problems are obvious and easy to carry out. No, that isn’t the time we live in, 
and it is delusional to think that “running away” and “living to fight another day” are options. “Another day” is now, and our 
backs are against the wall with nowhere to run. It’s not fair that the little nature that we have is being stripped from us before 
our eyes, and those who are long dead had it in abundance, but as the Crucified once uttered: 

“For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be 
taken away even that he hath. ” (Matthew 3:12) 

- “ Halputta Hadjo ” 

New moon ofhvyuce (July), 2,016 th year of the Crucified 

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